DUBLIN, Calif. (KTVU) - Several Alameda County Correctional deputies are under arrest, and soon to be fired, for alleged misconduct at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.
The charges involve allowing, even directing, inmates to pelt other inmates with urine and feces.
"It has shocked the conscience of our entire agency, it is a terrible event," Sheriff Greg Ahern told KTVU, describing the activity known in prison environments as "gassing."
Usually inmates target unsuspecting guards, throwing bodily waste at them.
But in this case, Ahern says four rookie guards orchestrated it.
"It can't be explained, it can't be understood, we are embarrassed, shocked, and ashamed and that's why we took such harsh actions."
The sheriff says two-year deputies Justin Linn and Erik McDermott were involved in multiple incidents dating back to 2016.
Deputies Sarah Krause and Stephen Sarcos, who both have three years experience, are implicated in a January 2017 incident, that brought the alleged practice to light.
Sheriff Ahern says suspicions emerged when an inmate told a deputy he had been gassed in his maximum security cell at 2:30 AM while Krause and Sarcos were on duty.
"They either leave a door unlocked, or a cuffing port unlocked and the inmate would be able to leave their cell and access to another individual's cell."
Community activists who monitor conditions at the jail say they hope the internal investigation and arrests signal more accountability.
"Pitting inmates against one another, that's not surprising to us, " said Tash Nguyen of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
Nguyen points out the jail has a long history of problems; several deaths and multi-million dollars settlements paid- for inmates who were untreated or injured by staff.
"Folks are not being fed adequate meals, they're not getting their health care, not getting their mental health care," declared Nguyen, "because it's not a culture of care and healing, it's a culture of harm and punishment."
One woman arriving to visit her husband in the jail Thursday evening said she was saddened, but not shocked, at using urine and feces as weapons.
"That's not surprising at all, there are horror stories. That's one of the lighter ones," she observed.
She declined to identify herself, fearing retaliation against her husband.
"They are loved, there are people who love them, yes they are people who have done something criminal, but they're still people".
Sheriff Ahern says he doesn't know why the accused guards would do what they're accused of.
But he says he has put his jail staff on notice: the care, custody and control of inmates is a trust.
"These individuals broke that trust with inmates, with the public, and they broke the trust with me," he exclaimed, "and I have no place in the agency for any actions like this whatsoever," she said.
Ahern adds he has brought a commander out of retirement to review all body-worn camera footage from the jail, although the incidents in question were not captured on video.
Sarcos resigned when the investigation began. The other three deputies have been on administrative leave, and termination proceedings are imminent.
All four self-surrendered Thursday and were released by late afternoon.
Brendan Woods, the public defender assigned to the case, released a statement Thursday afternoon in which he claimed to be "horrified and appalled" by the deputies actions.
"I commend Sheriff Ahern for taking immediate action and arresting individuals from his own department.
Misconduct like this should never be tolerated," Woods said. "Our office will cooperate in any way necessary to ensure that these deputies are held accountable and that this abuse does not continue to happen."